2013 – One for the Record Books



As 2013 draws to close, I want to thank you for the role you have played in our extraordinarily successful year at UT Austin.

It was a year marked by momentous generosity.

Michael and Susan Dell gave UT $50 million enabling the creation of the Dell Medical School. This was only the first of three times the Dells and UT would make major headlines in 2013. The second was the opening the Dell Computer Science Hall this spring, named in honor of another $10 million gift from Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. The hall opened as part of the Gates Computer Science Complex, made possible by a $30 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And the third headline was the gift of the Magnum Photos Collection, one of the most valuable gifts in the history of the University, given to the Ransom Center by Michael and Susan Dell, Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman, and John and Amy Phelan.

We named the College of Communication for the Moody family in recognition of a $50 million gift from the Moody Foundation. And former Regent Robert Rowling and his wife, Terry, pledged $25 million for a new home for the McCombs School of Business graduate programs to be named Rowling Hall.

All of these gifts and many more contributed to a record-breaking fundraising year for 2012-13. We need one more record year to achieve our $3 billion goal for the Campaign for Texas by the end of August.

It was a year marked by tremendous achievement.

UT’s largest college got a new home in January when we opened the Liberal Arts Building. We also launched the Clements Center for History, Strategy & Statecraft. And the Blanton Museum celebrated 50 years with a wonderful exhibit composed of masterworks from alumni collections.

Our faculty continued to win national and international recognitions: The National Academy of Engineering inducted Joseph J. Beaman Jr. of Mechanical Engineering; Sharon L. Wood of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering; and Keith P. Johnston of Chemical Engineering. The National Academy of Sciences elected John Goodenough of Mechanical Engineering. And the Institute of Medicine elected George Georgiou of Molecular Biosciences, Chemical Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering. Dean Young of the English Department was appointed Texas Poet Laureate. And C. Grant Willson of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering won the Japan Prize.

Our men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams both won Big 12 championships.

And it was a year marked by passages and transitions.

This year we lost the beloved Bill Livingston, who for nearly 60 years had served the University in numerous roles including that of interim president and senior vice president.

It was a year of major transitions as we thanked giants of our UT family for their dedicated service: DeLoss Dodds, who served 32 years as men’s athletics director; Tom Staley, director of the Ransom Center for more than 25 years; Mack Brown, who led our football program for 16 years; Steve Leslie, our executive vice president and provost, who had served in that role since 2007; and Robert Dahlstrom, who had served as UT police chief since 2006.

Among those who have succeeded them — our new executive vice president and provost Greg Fenves, formerly UT’s engineering dean; new athletics director Steve Patterson; new dean of graduate studies Judith Langlois; new dean of Undergraduate Studies Brent Iverson; new director of the Ransom Center Stephen Ennis; and new UT police chief, David Carter.

I’m always proud of UT Austin as I travel and meet my peers, and I am especially so this year as I fulfill my role as chair of the Association of American Universities.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday. Thank you for all you have done for UT Austin this year.

Bill's Signature


Sequestration hurting America by hurting university research


From left: Bill Powers; Washington State President Elson Floyd; Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Chair of the House Republican Conference; AAU president Hunter Rawlings; UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Tulane President Scott Cowen; and APLU President Peter McPherson


Wednesday, in my role as chair of the Association of American Universities, I traveled to Washington to meet with congressional leaders including Democratic whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, chair of the House Republican Conference. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss federal sequestration’s damaging effect on university research and possible solutions as Congress negotiates spending levels for 2014.

Much of our nation’s scientific and economic leadership was built on innovation and research on college campuses and relied on public support. Sequestration is already hurting that research and limiting students’ involvement in the types of innovation that can change the world. We, as a nation, must move forward and support research universities as tools of scientific and economic growth.

Last week, the AAU, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and The Science Coalition, which collectively represent more than 300 higher education institutions, released a survey of U.S. colleges on the impact of sequestration, which took effect in March. They found that the mandatory cuts to federal discretionary spending, from which research budgets are funded, have led to a reduced number of new federal research grants; the delay of some research projects; and fewer admission, stipend, and research opportunities for students.

As AAU President Hunter Rawlings, who participated in the meeting, has said, “As we cut, and then cut some more, and as our competitors overseas increase their investments in research and education, we create an innovation deficit that threatens America’s global leadership. This foolish policy must end.”

Hunter and I were joined on Capitol Hill by officials from the Association of Public Land Grant Universities and presidents and chancellors from Ohio State, UCLA, the University of Maryland, the University of Illinois, and Tulane.

As always, I’m proud to represent The University of Texas at Austin in our nation’s capital and wherever I go.

Bill's Signature


We must increase our national investment in higher education

On Tuesday, I had the honor of beginning my year of service as chairman of the Association of American Universities. To mark the occasion, I contributed an op-ed to the Houston Chronicle expressing my hopes for a new national investment in higher education. I’d like to share it with you here and below:

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Today, I’m proud to begin my one-year service as chairman of the Association of American Universities. Since 1900, the AAU has been the chief promoter of the American research university, and the University of Texas at Austin is one of just 62 current members.

In American higher education, there is no issue more critical than affordability. Gov. Rick Perry has made it a priority and President Barack Obama has as well. It concerns me, as it should every leader in higher education and all who understand the crucial role a college education plays in social mobility and national productivity.
In August, the White House published its College Scorecard, an interactive tool families can use to evaluate college options. UT-Austin fares well with a high graduation rate and a below-the-median cost.

In the final analysis, there are only two main ways to decrease the price tag of college for students: 1) decreasing operational costs and 2) increasing support from nontuition sources. Obama has called on universities to control their costs, and at UT, we are doing that. For example, we are undergoing a major initiative to reduce the costs of our operations by consolidating our staff so that multiple departments can share the expertise of specialists in human resources, information technology, procurement and accounting. Universities are behind the business sector in modernizing these functions, and we will all benefit from catching up.

But holding the line on costs — even cutting costs — is not sufficient for the needs of the future. We must also increase support for higher education from nontuition sources. These sources fall into four main categories: philanthropy, research grants, nontraditional revenue sources (such as licensing our discoveries or merchandising our brand) and public funding.

On this last count, we all have reason for alarm. In the last 25 years, student enrollment at state universities across America has grown by 62 percent, while total public funding has increased by only 2 percent. Consequently, state funding per student has dropped by 30 percent in those 25 years. And this is not a matter of our collective wealth, but rather, a matter of priorities: Nationally, state support per $1,000 of personal income has dropped by 37 percent. We cannot continue to decrease public funding across the nation and then express shock when the price to students goes up or we fall behind our competitors around the world.

We are witnessing a massive, historic public disinvestment in higher education. In spite of that, higher education is still doing amazing things. In Texas, economists have estimated that our state receives a 21-to-1 return on investment from UT-Austin. That is, for the state’s annual investment of about $300 million, it gets a university that contributes $6.4 billion to the economy through direct and indirect spending by staff, faculty and students.

The reasons for this disinvestment are many and include state- and federally mandated programs that have eaten deeply into the amount over which state legislatures have discretion. Those mandates likely are not going away. But if legislators realized the massive return on investment they are already getting from higher education, they would be going “all in” with public funding like a poker player with the best hand of his life. Of course, it is not just a matter of “throwing money at a problem.” We must be smart and targeted in our spending; but make no mistake, we must invest resources in higher education.

University administrations need to aggressively control higher education’s cost. But the responsibility for the cost of public higher education also rests with the public. Higher education affordability should be a nationally shared priority. State governments should begin making up lost ground by returning to their historical investment levels for higher education. It will help hold the line on the cost to students, and it’s the best investment of public dollars we can possibly make.

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Thank you for your support as I enter this exciting new year of national visibility for The University of Texas at Austin.

Hook ’em Horns,

Bill's Signature

Protecting our Innovation Advantage

This summer, assistant professor Todd Humphreys, in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, and his research team, graduate students Jahshan Bhatti and Ken Pesyna, spent time aboard the White Rose of Drachs, successfully performing GPS spoofing attacks on the 213-foot superyacht while it traveled on the Mediterranean Sea.


As you may know, much of UT’s research funding comes from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Federal funding supports our research endeavors, and it also creates life-changing learning opportunities for our undergraduates and graduate students.  Just last month a team of UT Austin students led by Engineering professor Todd Humphreys demonstrated the ease with which a state-of-the-art ship could be diverted off course using GPS “spoofing.” By taking control of a ship’s navigation without ever stepping on board under controlled experimental conditions, the team exposed vulnerabilities that could have significant implications on the security of transportation and commerce around the world.

I’m proud of the fact that the research expertise of our faculty has resulted in a 35-percent increase in our external research support, from all sources, during the past six years. Federally funded research also helps stretch our state’s dollars further, while helping to make education more affordable for Texas families.

This week the Association of American Universities (AAU) and more than 160 university chancellors and presidents are making a public appeal to President Obama and Congress to address major federal budget cuts to research and higher education.

These cuts are creating a gap, an “innovation deficit” between needed and actual funding of research and higher education. This deficit could slow or even halt promising research now. It would limit student opportunities well into the future—not just in the classroom or lab, but in the world after graduation.  Fewer research breakthroughs mean fewer patents, fewer start-ups, fewer products, and inevitably fewer jobs.

I recognize that there are many factors placing pressure on the federal budget. However, sequestration tends to inflict across-the-board cuts rather than strategic ones. Our long-term national welfare and security depends on innovation.

I hope you will agree that the answer to avoiding an innovation deficit must include sustained strategic federal investment in research and higher education. I will be working on this and many other challenges confronting higher education when I begin service as the chair of the AAU in October.


Bill's Signature

The Importance of the AAU



I’d like to share the news that on Tuesday of this week I was elected vice-chair of the Association of American Universities. This means that next year I’ll have the honor of serving a one-year term as the group’s chair.

The AAU is the premier organization of national research universities, both public and private. There are only 61 current members. In Texas, only UT Austin, Rice (admitted 1985), and A&M (admitted 2001) are members. Membership is hard-won, and we can be proud that UT Austin has been a member since 1929.

The AAU was founded in 1900 by 14 PhD-granting universities to protect and advance the interests of research-intensive universities. It’s important that America’s top research universities speak with a united voice in matters of national higher education policy, and the AAU provides that voice in Washington and across the country. I hope my two years as vice-chair and chair of this, our nation’s most prestigious group of universities, continues to raise the profile of UT Austin on the national and world stage. Finally, I’d like to thank AAU president Hunter Rawlings for his skillful leadership of this critical organization.

A New Era of Collaborative Innovation in Public Higher Education

I wanted to share this message, which I sent to our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends yesterday:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Recently I attended a meeting of the Association of American Universities in Washington, where I invited the presidents of six prominent public universities to discuss the future of higher education in America. In addition, with help from the Lumina Foundation, I’ve been meeting regularly with presidents of several community colleges and four-year colleges in Texas to explore ways we can help improve the success of all our students. There is a great deal of discussion regarding budget reductions, but a more fundamental conversation about higher education is taking place across the nation. This is the first in a series of communications about these issues.

Our social landscape is shifting in fundamental ways. Families are recovering from a deep recession. Using the Internet, smart phones, and other technologies to learn and communicate is second nature to today’s students. Current demographic and social trends are greatly expanding the number of people who seek higher education. State appropriations, once a primary source of funding, now make up a small fraction of public university budgets (about 14 percent at UT Austin). Far more than merely being a training ground for future employees, universities must be partners in innovation for the private sector, entrepreneurial communities, and other educational institutions. Society’s tectonic plates are shifting, and universities must adapt.

From energy to medicine to the space program, Texas and its universities have long been fertile ground for innovation. This innovation must extend to public higher education, and our University is ideally positioned to lead this effort.

In my five years as president, I have worked with colleagues to strengthen undergraduate teaching, to advance research and problem-solving by our faculty, to foster deeper relationships with our alumni and leading corporations, to improve institutional productivity, and to make UT Austin accessible to a cross-section of Texans and exceptional students from across the United States and around the world.

When I was dean of the Law School, I worked with the Commission of 125, a group of about 200 citizen leaders from all walks of life who studied UT in 2002-04 and made recommendations to shape its future. It became clear to everyone engaged in the Commission’s work that the traditional model for public higher education had to change. Indeed, the overarching theme of my State of the University Address last year was the need to increase our productivity and effectiveness in an environment of diminished resources. But while we introduce change-as one of the world’s great research universities-we must be steadfast in our commitment to teaching and research.

With UT’s large student body and influential alumni network, acclaimed faculty, and powerful research enterprise-combined with its depth and diversity of programs and overall excellence-no university is better positioned to pursue new approaches and make an impact. We must cultivate innovation, exploring new, more effective pathways for how our students and faculty learn and create new knowledge.

In my view, the public research university of the 21st century must:

  • Engage in solving major global problems, expanding knowledge, and improving lives throughout society
  • Offer the highest-quality undergraduate education, graduate programs, and research to prepare the next generation of leaders who will change the world
  • Exploit the opportunities that new technology creates in learning and educational research
  • Develop new revenue streams to become even more financially self-sufficient
  • Focus resources on those programs that can achieve true excellence and that offer strategic opportunities to advance knowledge
  • Increase efficiency and reduce costs in university operations on a continual basis
  • Share educational resources with emerging research universities, regional universities, community colleges, and high schools to expand educational opportunities for everyone

This vision for the future is taking shape in many ways on our campus, much of it inspired by the Commission of 125. The Commission emphasized the importance of pursuing excellence, enriching the undergraduate experience, and developing strong leadership for academic departments and research centers. Here are some of the changes under way that reflect our commitment to this vision.

UT has overhauled its core curriculum for all undergraduates, adding a mandatory rigorous intellectual experience known as the First-Year Signature Course, which includes coursework in disciplines such as English, history, social sciences, math, natural sciences, and the performing arts. These courses are designed to develop important skills in writing, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, ethics, and independent inquiry.

We are redesigning key gateway courses in chemistry, biology, and statistics to shift the emphasis from traditional teaching methods to more innovative and effective student-centered learning. This Course Transformation Program uses technology to gain immediate insights into teaching effectiveness and to individualize learning both inside and outside the classroom. Transformation of these three initial courses will affect more than 9,000 UT Austin students per year.

We are partnering with Harvard and Carnegie Mellon universities to use advanced instructional technology and interactive tools to develop free educational materials and online interactive tutors to help students realize their potential on our campus and at other Texas colleges and universities. One of the objectives of the project is to help students reach similar levels of proficiency across learning environments at institutions with a wide range of missions.

Innovation also requires that we manage costs. In fact, our administrative costs are about half the average rate for state universities in Texas. Current efficiency initiatives in information technology, data storage, purchasing, water and energy conservation, and other areas are projected to save $565 million over a 10-year period.

In addition to finding new efficiencies, we must also create new income streams to support our academic priorities.

  • We are aggressively pursuing the commercialization of our intellectual property through programs to create new companies and connect them with investors.
  • In 2010 we launched H2Orange bottled water, a partnership that generates scholarship funds from water packaged in a recyclable bottle shaped like the UT Tower.
  • Earlier this year we announced the Longhorn Network, a 20-year partnership with ESPN and IMG College that will guarantee $300 million in revenue to support UT Austin. We have already committed funding from this agreement to create new faculty chairs in philosophy and physics.

American research universities are the envy of the world. Nations worldwide are aggressively trying to replicate them because they attract the best faculty, who attract the best students, who become tomorrow’s leaders. Research universities drive economic development in their regions because they produce the educated workforce companies need and new knowledge that generates innovation and economic development.

Texas has a history of leadership and innovation. To build a stronger future for the people of our state, we need to lead in higher education. At UT Austin, we are working to unify our 470,000 alumni and many other important constituent groups to make this shared vision a reality. It’s a vision that will strengthen all public universities, our state, and our nation.


Bill's Signature